Tag Archives: healing narratives

Jaycee and the rest of us

bright purple graffiti of the word LIBERATEThis morning it’s quiet and grey, except for the birds, who are forever providing exception. Last night was some excitement at 11am with two red ticks making their slow, deliberate way through Sophie’s short fur. This will be the one time I praise pesticides, and am grateful for the tick repellent we apply to her neck every month, the stuff that may have kept the ticks from anchoring. Do I know what the pesticide is doing to my pup, to her nerves, to her behavior? I don’t. I trust the manufacturer, which is rarely a wise idea to do implicitly. I weigh the benefits of this poison against the damage that the tick’s poison could do: what a calculation.

Today, Sophie gets to visit doggie day care for the first time — this is the day care’s test run. Wish her heart (and mine) good luck as mama drops her baby off for her first day alone.

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This morning I get to spend a half-hour with Sharon Bray‘s Writing as a Healing Ministry class at PSR; I want to talk about communal freewriting as liberatory practice, for trauma survivors, yes, and for all of us. Sharon gathers up folks who want to lead writing workshops in their faith or other communities and, in a week-long intensive, presents them with many different workshop models, from AWA to poetry therapy and more. Participants do lots of their own writing and exploring, and get to meet facilitators who are out in the world already doing the work. The class sounds like a fabulous opportunity, and she teaches it every year during PSR’s summer session! Check them out!

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The latest People magazine has another cover story about Jaycee Dugard (don’t worry; the link doesn’t take you to the People site, but to HuffPo); the last time I bought People off the rack was when Jaycee had just been found (after a guard on the UC Berkeley Campus saw something odd, took her and her children aside, away from the man who’d held her captive for 18 years, and asked her what was up) and People offered maybe an exclusive about the immediate aftermath as Jaycee returned to the world.

I’m fascinated by Jaycee’s story — there’s a way in which I resonate with her experience, in the sense that she grew up through pre-adolescence and into early adulthood, under the control of a sexual abuser. She was kidnapped at 11, taken from her family, kept by a man and woman, raped and sexually abused for years. She gave birth to two children. This is barely surface; what I’ve just written hardly tells you anything about her. It’s a character sketch, plot details, scratch marks on her face. This isn’t a story.

I would dearly love to write with Jaycee in a workshop. She’s written or co-written a book about her experiences, and I’ll read it, of course, and I’ll also wonder how much more of her story there is to tell. What lives inside and underneath the stories the media and mainstream public all expect/want to hear.

The other thing that fascinates me, though, is the media/public’s engagement with the story of Jaycee Dugard. Here’s one story of child abduction and abuse that’s blown up and given massive mainstream coverage. This is not to undermine in any way the horror that Jaycee went through, but I have this question: Isn’t it true that we are so (encouraged to be) engaged with this story because Jaycee was abducted by strangers, at a bus stop. Her story is safe to publicize, and safe for us as a public to be openly horrified over, because it doesn’t challenge the story that we tell ourselves that children are harmed by those outside the family — any harm that comes to children in the family has to do with parenting differences, the rights of parents to discipline; perhaps the child had it coming, after all. After a story like Jaycee’s, we soothe ourselves by saying that we’ll watch our children closer  and keep them close to home, where they will be safe from the monsters. Our mainstream narrative (and the lies as well) are kept safe.

I want to tell you that I know hundreds of people who were held captive and abused — but not by strangers. These are people kept in their homes, who didn’t have the fantasy, the luxury, of imagining what it will be like when they can see their parents and be safe at home again. These are people who grew up living in two worlds, just like Jaycee, who were beaten and/or tortured; some bore children. Some have scars. The scars on others are invisible. These folks are also telling, also writing, their stories, they are exposing deep truths about our society’s commitment to ‘family values’ — and they will never be seen being interviewed by Diane Sawyer.  Why aren’t we also publicizing these stories? Why don’t these folks have time in Time magazine? (It’s too common, someone might say — everyday, common-place activities, like the rape of kids by parents, that’s not news.)

Jaycee’s story should be publicized — and so, too, should the rest of our stories. In combination, we would show (wouldn’t we?) the lie that is America’s self-soothing story about protecting the children. We would tear the story open, and in that raw aftermath, we would make way for something new to be born.

I want our societal story about rape and sexual violence to shift away from this focus on the monsters outside; I want us to open up the searchlight and see all the harm, all the monsters (who, in the end, look most often like regular people — that’s the most terrifying thing). I want us to have deeper conversations about who is safe, and where, and when. About what protection and accountability look like. About how to move, work, stretch, create, grow into a society that doesn’t feed on its youth.

Take 10 minutes for you today, to write or walk or breathe. Know that your story is important. Understand that your tellings are a part of this new narrative that we’re all working on together — your piece is necessary. Thank you for writing, and for sharing it.

story & cognitive dissonance

poster graffiti -- a padlock with the words, 'You are the key'The words are quiet in me right now. Lots of possibility pushing its way around toward manifesting, which means commitment, which means change.

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The foghorns are lowing all around us; blue sky above but the Golden Gate is thick and grey. Did you see any fireworks last night? From the little church that sits above our apt building, we could see some from Sausalito as well as the ones over in San Francisco. Sophie wasn’t sure what to do with the loud noises, with the strange noisy mechanical birds that were flying low overhead. Still, though, she was more interested in the dog that another family had brought up with them.

It’s hard for me to take fireworks uncritically anymore — the fact that they’re meant to represent bomb explosions lives in me, and I think about the people who don’t celebrate such explosions, who live in terror of those particular noises. I have never had to experience that terror, which is a tremendous privilege. And so it’s with cognitive dissonance that I watch any fireworks display. Fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve had lots of experience with cognitive dissonance (as have most Americans, I would hazard, and certainly all survivors of trauma), and so it doesn’t throw me completely: I can appreciate some of the beauty and color, the pyrotechnic work. What sort of study does a person have to undertake to be able to create a firework that explodes into the shape of a heart, or a smiley face?

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Here’s something I wrote last Friday:

What are the stories that we as a society tell ourselves and each other about sexual violence, how we build and undermine the myths around where rape and incest come from? As a culture, we say we don’t support incest, that we don’t support child sexual abuse — don’t condone it. How do we, as a culture, walk with that cognitive dissonance, when we know how many people are sexually violated every day? How do we  story that wreckage for ourselves — that our society says it cares for us and wants to protect the children and then turns not a blind eye but a wide open and indifferent eye to the number of children raped in their homes every day.

We give a privileged position in our government and nonprofit industrial complex to an institution like the Catholic Church, which appears to have child sexual abuse integrated into its very fabric, into its institutional structure. How do we reconcile this?

How much storying is layered around these facts, these truths, so that people do not question? What are the stories that cause lies, what are the stories that run us aground, away from the facts? Why do we listen to and integrate some stories and not others?

And how do we, as survivors, as people who have experienced the underside of society’s stories, make sense of our own experience? If one in three women is sexually abused or assaulted in her lifetime and one in six boys/men, can there be anyone in this country not personally affected by sexual violence? Why do we keep pretending like it’s not all around us? Who do we keep believing the stories that it’s about sick or disturbed individuals, that it’s not institutional, that it’s not societal practice?

What are the stories of rape and incest that we as a society prefer, both fiction and nonfiction?  We like the ‘true crime’ narratives, the one-at-a-time bad-men-on-parade, the stories of women who triumph, who “move from victim to suvivor, from survivor to thriver!”

What about the stories that show us that this isn’t an issue of badly-behaving individuals? What about the stories of women and men who don’t triumph? What about the stories of survivors who lie, who behave “badly” themselves?

The case against the former head of the IMF is falling apart because the woman who he assaulted bight also be a liar — she might not only associate with honest people. The only people who can be raped, by law, are the unflawed one– only the honest ones, the inhuman ones. Whether or not this woman, in this case, was raped, the fact is that now we’re publicly tarnishing her character. That’s what we do with rape victims, the very people our criminal justice system, out of the same mouth, will say it wants to protect. Maybe this woman came to the country under false pretenses. Does this mean she can’t be assaulted? Maybe after she was assaulted she found a way to grab for some power herself. Does this mean she couldn’t have been raped?

Very possibly, yes, according to the laws of this country, which present themselves as putting women and children first.  First in the firing line, maybe. The trouble with using legal means to undermine or eradicate sexual violence is playing out on an international scale:  1) it only happens in the aftermath (legal ramifications don’t prevent the rape in the first place); 2) it requires there to have been a theft, and thus an unflawed landscape/crime scene — the law is primarily focused on protecting property. Rape laws are no different — if what was stolen wasn’t of high value, the crime isn’t so bad. The victim is the property, and is always on trial. We know all this already.

We need to change the story about rape and sexual violence. That’s how we change a culture, a cultural practice — we change the story. We change the stories that people tell their children, that men and women share among one another, that police officers listen for, even. What is the current story about rape, about incest — what’s the story that we can hear? What’s the one that we can’t hear yet? (I’m grateful to Ken Plummer’s Telling Sexual Stories for introducing me to this layer of engagement with stories.)

What’s the story about women’s bodies, children’s bodies, weaker bodies being always accessible to more powerful men and women? What’s the story about class, about power and violence? What are the stories that police tell in court, that rape crisis centers tell their funders, that survivors tell in order to be believed? What are the stories they don’t tell?

How do we learn how we’re supposed to react to rape, once it happens to us? (Which, many of us come to understand, it inevitably will — what stories circulate to ensure that? And what about those of us for whom that’s not true?) How do we change the story about children’s power, women’s power, queerfolks’ power, men’s power? About innocence as something that can be stolen (and thus is property), about violence as power, as good, about the ability to take and do violence as a mark of what — of power? Something to be striven for?

What stories can we unearth, unbury — no, what stories can we keep on telling and louder (these are not hidden stories, they are un-listened-to stories) that undermine the dominant narrative, the easier-to-live-with idea that rape happens because this one guy was a drunk or evil?

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Here’s a write: it’s just for you. This is about stepping out of that cognitive dissonance, and telling our own whole truth. What story aren’t you telling, because you think/know folks’ won’t understand it, won’t listen, won’t hear it right? What piece of your story do you keep on lockdown? What about a part of your character’s story? Take 15 minutes, or 20; go to a quiet place (in real life and/or in you, but definitely in you), and bring your tea or coffee. Write it. Hold it there on the page. Just because it can’t be heard and understood yet doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.

Thank you for the ways you can hold complexity in others, how you work to be present with your own contradictions and complications: they’re all gorgeous, just like you. Thank you for your wisdom, your honesty, your lies, your words.

reach out and risk, reach out and receive

graffiti of a woman's head, face, with "trick or treat" written next to it...photo taken from behind a wire fence, so the image looks fenced-inHappy Thursday! Today I have a little extra writing time in the morning, and then I’m off to SF for the MedEd writer’s group, a weekly meeting with my friend/colleague Peggy Simmons of Green Windows Writing Groups, and then tonight’s the night for Declaring Our Erotic, too! A full day; thankfully, I got a full-night’s sleep: whew.

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Last night was the Erotic Reading Circle — we’ve been ERC-ing for at least four years. Can it be that long?

Last night there were 6 in the circle, 8 with CQ and myself, and 7 folks read, including your facilitators, and first of all, how can you turn down an opportunity to have a private and intimate reading time with Carol Queen, who’s so widely published, who’s been doing this for such a long time and so very damn well? Last night there were a couple of regulars, several folks who were new to the Circle, and we got to hear such a range of writing, erotic memoir, essay, rant, poetry — we heard writing about writing erotica, we heard stories about new lust and long-term desire and food, we heard stories about family and complicated wanting. Someone said, Everything that was shared here tonight was different, and none of it was what you might expect from an erotic reading!

We have a great time at the ERC — every time I’m nervous and excited (will folks show up?), and then we get such a wonderful gathering, every time, every time. And people risk walking up those stairs and into the room for the first time, risk sitting with strangers and reading their stories about sex. I know I’ve said it before, but that’s the part that can move me to tears (and I’m not even premenstrual anymore): that willingness to reach out and risk, and to receive one another’s risky offerings with generosity and awe. I love that.

Next month we meet on 11/24, just before T-day. If you’ve got stories about something getting stuffed (I just have to make the obvious innuendo sometimes), or erotic writing that has nothing to do with a holiday even, bring it down! At the Center for Sex and Culture, 1519 Mission St (bet. 11th and So Van Ness) in San Francisco

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I’m reading Healing Stories: Women Writers Curing Cultural Disease, by Gay Wilentz. The book is helping me to think about a longer project I’ve been in the middle of for a long time, something I want, am ready, to go back to.

In her study, Wilentz looks at how writing about healing can be a healing, for the writer and for the reader and for a community/culture. She writes about the concept that “cultures themselves can be ill” (1). Wilentz studies 5 texts in this collection: Erna Brodber’s Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home, Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, Keri Hullme’s the bone people, and Jo Sinclari/Ruth Seid’s Wasteland.

I’ve only read two of these, Ceremony and The Salt Eaters, and want to read the other books before I read Wilentz’s analysis of them. I’m always looking for other books that consider the idea that the culture/community has to be healed along with an individual, that wrangle that possibility, that offer us readers a sense of what that might look like. So I’m looking forward to reading these three books, and others, too, that Wilnetz mentions: Plainsong for the Widow, Paule Marshall; House Made of Dawn, N. Scott Momday; The Woman Who Owned the Shadows, Paula Gunn Allen; Solar Storms, Linda Hogan; and many more.

I’m also looking to find any works of fiction like these by Irish or eastern European women writers — writers who can hold the old traditions into the modern ailments of depression, isolation, disconnection. Any suggestions out there?

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A prompt for today: Take a few minutes and jot down some signs of cultural illness — what does that mean for you? Try not to think about it too much, just create a list of some examples. Take one or two of those at most interest you in the moment, give yourself 10 or 20 minutes, and dive into those examples, describe them in detail. Show us the illness through what you see/experience — let us experience it, too. (Sometimes we can better understand a thing when we’re given the opportunity to go into it, rather than just having it told to us; you’re giving us the opportunity to more deeply empathize with what you know.)

Thanks for your cultural work today, for the ways you provide a counterexample to all the narratives of fear, for the ways you show up (for others, for yourself), over and over. Thank you for the old healing ways you carry in your body, even without conscious knowledge. Thank you for your words: always for your words.